“Many of us agents are living in fear right now — that’s the honest truth,” Stephanie Griffiths of Mangata Escapes tells Travel Courier. “We have brides lined up for the rest of the 2020 year and we have no idea what is going to happen with these. Not only due to the virus itself but also with guest affordability to attend these weddings.”
Even now, for couples booked into 2021, she says it’s been a challenge collecting deposits from guests as many people aren’t willing to commit to any future trips at this point.
“Suppliers have offered extensions for deposits, which is great but final payment dates aren’t budging for groups and I fear I will lose many for this fall due to that,” she adds. “On the bright side, I have booked a wedding for a couple in the past week. I think many are looking towards the future. I know I cannot wait to make up for this lull in vacations for myself.”
One helpful tool for Griffiths has been creating and engaging with Facebook groups, where brides can exchange information and thoughts with each other.
“It’s amazing — how these brides come together,” she says. “It’s been totally necessary at this time. You would think thousands of brides in a group would be chaos but it’s rarely ever catty. Pretty cool if you ask me.”
Shalene Dudley, owner and travel designer with Latitude Concierge Travels, Ltd, says her current clients still want to get married, so right now it’s about rescheduling bookings instead of simply cancelling the destination wedding.
“What has not been easy is the uncertainty of whether we have selected a date far enough in the future,” Dudley says. “I can only hold firm to the fact that they all need to make sure insurance is purchased once the new reservations are confirmed with the tour operator.”
However, she’s optimistic there will be a lot of demand for destination weddings when this pandemic is over, and that will result in a strong recovery for her business.
“I actually plan to expand this year. This occurrence makes it clear that my team and I will be very busy this fall,” she says.
Liz Moore, destination wedding expert and CEO of Liz Moore Destination Weddings, says understandably, brides who had planned weddings for spring, were dealt a difficult blow as they had to drastically hit the brakes on their wedding plans, but those who booked with a travel agent have the advantage of trusting an expert with the next steps when it comes to saving the date, again.
“No travel agent wants to have that conversation with their couples that they cannot go as planned to their destination wedding.”
“With suppliers, airlines and resorts in such unchartered waters right now it’s hard to know the right course of action,” she says. “No travel agent wants to have that conversation with their couples that they cannot go as planned to their destination wedding.”
Although the last thing many couples want to do is to start over again with guests’ arrangements after waiting upwards of a year for the main event, she suggests considering a future date, past September.
“Hopefully, the COVID-19 Coronavirus is just a bad dream by late spring and summer, and we can get back to getting excited about wedding travel again,” she says. “October and November are great times to marry abroad, and for those considering 2021 now, late January can also offer good pricing options.”
When considering a new wedding date, she suggests that agents ask their brides to contact their destination wedding VIPs and check that the dates work for them.
Overall, she’s confident that guests will look forward to destination weddings down the line after being cooped up at home for so long.
“Guests will be overjoyed to book or even rebook again for a future wedding date,” she says. “Life will be back to normal soon enough. I’m sure everyone will love the opportunity to jump on the next plane to somewhere warm, tropical for a fun-filled wedding celebration… Even more so with the true appreciation of family and friends that only comes from being isolated from everyone for so long.”
Expert tips for dealing with COVID-19
Ashley Hillary, luxury & romance travel designer with North South Travel, shares some helpful tips for travel agents on navigating during these unprecedented times.
- Take time to confirm all new travel arrangements or refund resolutions in writing (emails are fine). For re-bookings, put reminders in your calendar to touch base with these clients frequently through their new departure dates
- Reach out personally to your VIP clients – your most profitable, dependable clients, with a handwritten letter, to send them positive thoughts and to let them know that you care, and to keep your relationships warm during these times
- If you have extra time and if your budget allows, try to keep up with social media/marketing efforts to let clients know you’re still there for them and to support them when they’re ready to travel again. Use social media to entertain and inspire, to stay positive, not to promote future travel deals
- Try to stay in the forefront of clients minds, without being obtrusive and emphasize that you’re there for them
- Send written thank you notes to all clients that chose to rebook with you
- Create a 90-day schedule for contacting current clients: once-a-month emails, daily Facebook posts, etc. Focus on aspirational content – not booking deals
- Plan ahead for future 2020/2021 bookings, what will you do differently, how will you protect yourself in the event of any future similar issues, adjust contracts and terms and conditions accordingly
- Try to stay positive, keep busy with any extra tasks you’ve been putting off ie. clean your back office, upgrade your website, social media pages, etc.
- Most importantly, take care of yourself and focus on stress reduction, take frequent breaks throughout the day and walk away from your computer, stay active and use this time for self improvement